MYTHICAL MONKEYS OF CAPE YORK
Giant Snakes And Brumbies In Tropic North
By DONALD THOMSON, Who is Leading An Expedition In The Cape York District Cape York Peninsula is still enjoying the story of the latest "discovery"—of the existence of a race of "monkeys" in its
(lark jungles. But it is not at all surprised; it never is. There is nothing at all novel about it; it is not nearly so good as a fctory that it has been enjoying for many years now—the story of "German Jack's" "Marsupial tiger"—a beast that (or so white man's mythology tell us) is "a cat just growing into a tiger." Its home is said to be the ranges of Cape York Peninsula; but if you ask a blackfellow about it, he will only smile. He enters into the spirit of the joke and listens amiably when you toll him the story, for why should not the white man have his joke? And when you have quite finished he rarely fails to remark, "Pussy cat," disarmingly. Likewise, the answer to that one about the monkeys is "cuseus." What is this cuscus that it should inspire these tales of mythical monkeys?
The fact that manyweira stories have been toM about the fauna ofi Cape York is perhaps not to be won-1 dered at. To the layman from' the south, even If he is used to the bush, the birds. ?m<nmi s end reptiles that be eees often differ so much from those that he knew in the south that he has tati feeling of being in a strange land. This is especially the caseou the east coasts of the peninsula and the secret is simply that many of the birds and animals really belong to New Guinea. To tbe naturalist it re-
presents an interesting study In geo graphical distribution; to the layman a punOlng Jumble of sew and strange beasts intermingled with those wilA which he is familiar. In the dart jungles of the eastern rivers be ma} see a large grey and white animal, the bare skin of its hands, nose, and tai £ vivid yellow, staring down at blir with 'wide open golden eyes that look in the twilight of the Jungle, like great moons. This is the spotted cuscus, ai interesting fellow, whose next of Joi belong rather to New Guinea than U Australia—the ""imai that replace, the silver-grey opossum In the jungli country. And while, in the south/lv was accustomed to regard a carpe snake of 10 or 12 feet as a Riant, ot Cape York Peninsula he may comi face to face with pythons more thai twenty feet in length. Even a Queens' innrjop often flails to' realise that hi may travel some 1,100 miles north a Brisbane and still be In bis own State! The cuseus (Phalanger maculatus), which is often called oy such names as "monkey opossum" and "monkey monkey," is, however, in no way re lated to the monkeys, and when closely examined it does not look at all like a monkey. It te a marsupial—a mam mal carrying its young in a pouch like the opossum of toe south. In dze the cuseus is considerably larger than the common opossum, and is very different In appearance and in habits. Its body 1s thick and heavy, its head round, and its ears are so'short that they are almost hidden in its fur, ?o that at first glance it looks as if it had no ears at aU. Its tail is long and pre hensile, and is bare of fur for about the terminal third of its length. The most striking thing about the creature is its eyes, which are very large and bright, orange yellow In color. The female is uniform grey in color; the male only spotted and blotched with white, the whole setting off the vivid orange yellow of the skin of the nose, hands and feet, and tail. The cuseus builds no nest but lives among the branches at the top at the trees. When disturbed it shows its teeth and utters a loud gutteral growling sound, defending itself with teeth and claws. Though its canine teeth are strongly developed, it is not carnivorous, but feeds on fruit, berries, and leaves. It is often extremely fat, and for that reason is greatly prized by the natives, who kill it by climbing the tree in which it Is sleeping and spearing it at dose quarters. Twenty Foot Pythons The fact that the big scrub python, the carpet snake, and the brown tree snake, all of which share the same jungle habitat, are nocturnal, and drag their scaly lengths almost noise- lessly among the trees, does not offer much inducement to walking at night, and one of the most disconcerting ex- periences that I know is suddenly to find oneself gazing into the unblink ing eyes of a snake coiled up in a tree a few inches from one's face it always gives one the uncanny feel- ing that it has been watching one intently for hours! Few people know
trees of the open forest country. Its body is striped with black and white but distinctive as is its appearance, it has an even more extraordinary odor —an odor so strong that the presence of the animal can often be detected even before it has been seen. If you should be deceived, at your first meet- ing with the beautiful little beast, by its soft furry appearance, you will un- doubtedly carry away a memento of the occasion that will effectively safe guard you against absent-mindedness in its presence again, for it has the
that these Australian snakes some- times attain enormous dimensions— dwarfing the largest carpet snake (Python spilotes var. variegatus). The scrub python (Python amethystinus), the range of Which extends from Malaya through New Guinea to Cape York, is by far the most powerful snake in Australia. Specimens of up to 22 or 23 feet in length have been killed in the scrubs of the Upper Mas sey, Rocky and Lockhart Rivers of Cape York—snakes with which a man, single-handed, would have very little hope in a struggle. These great rep- tiles have the habit of hang- ing down from trees in the vicinity of animals pads, and seizing their prey as it passes Wallaby, cuscus and pig figure in the menu of these mon- sters. Animal With An "Air" One of the most extraordinary crea tures of Cape York is the striped Pha- langer (Dactylopsila), a nocturnal ani mal that makes its home in the hollow
most powerful biting apparatus of any Australian animal of its size. One specimen that I secured cut through half inch wooden planks like cheese, and easily tore through two thicknesses of win netting and made its escape. Finally its cage was lined with sheet tin. By profession it is a house breaker—for it lives upon the honey from wild bees' nests, which it obtains by biting its way through the solid wood to the chamber in the centre of a limb. The striped phalanger pos- sesses a somewhat startling cry—a loud rattling sound, the making of which does much credit to so small an ani- mal. It. too, is a lone New Guinea re- presentative, for most of its relatives, of which an inordinate number nave been described, hail from New Guinea and its environs. Insect Catching Plant Not least remarkable of the exotic wonders of Cape York Peninsula are the pitcher plants, true Nepenthes plants that bear at the end of their leaves, large pitchers, complete with lids, for the purpose of capturing in sects. These pitchers are very curi- ously fashioned, and are often six or seven inches in length. Locally, the Pitcher plant is often known as tfaa "Dutchman's Pipe Orchid"—following the popular and time-honored custom of **n"i T>c any botanical curiosity an "orchid" or a "fungus." The Nepen thes, however, are yin nowise related to the orchids, though I hope nobody win pass tins on to any resident of the Peninsula. When the lid opens the pitcher U about one-third f W of fluid—colorless and Mnntwwant to the human palate —in which venturesome Insects such as ants, grasshoppers, cockroaches and flies, that visit the pitcher, attracted apparently by the fluid that it con tains, are drowned. Once inside the pitcher there is very little chance of escape, for at the top of the little "Jag" there Is an overhanging, intumed rim, that effectively bars the exit. The bodies of the hapless victims gradually dlsentegrate and are absorbed by the plant—supplying the nitrogen com pounds that are deficient in the sour, boggy soils of the swamps in which Nepenthes grows. It Is one of the most extraordinary and spectacular of plants, and very few people realise that it is a native Australian—albiet a rare and local one. Giant Venomous Snakes In addition to possessing in the scrub python, the largest snake in Australia, Cape Yorke Peninsula is the home of the largest and most dangerous veno- mous snake, though it is not confined to the area. It is the taipan, which attains a length of up to 10 or 12 feet. It is greatly feared by the natives of Cape York, who cannot be persuaded to go near it. Nor is this fear with out foundation—for the taipan is un- doubtedly the most formidable reptile in Australia, and a man who is bit- ten squarely on the body by a big spe- cimen would have no hope of recovery. A large specimen possesses fangs not much short of half an inch in length, fangs that are curved backward like those of a viper, and it yields a very large quantity of extremely potent venom. "Milking" For Venom On the present expedition two speci- mens of the reptile have been taken alive, and an ultimate acquaintance with them has only increased our re- spect for the taipan. Venom has been collected from each specimen at regular intervals. As soon as they are handled they open their jaws, erect the poison fangs, and "work" their jaws eagerly—in search of something to close upon. They strike with ex- treme rapidity and when offered a rubber-covered receptacle used for col- lecting venom, snatch so savagely at it that one has the feeling that they are sure to leap clean out of one's hand! One experiences a feeling of re- lief as soon as the long curved fangs penetrate the thick rubber, as if it were tissue paper, and the colorless venom streams down the side of the glass vessel—for a slip of the finger, or a moment's distracted attention might have been serious. The larger of the two snakes measures a trifle less than seven feet, the smaller a little less than six. We are still wondering what it will feel like to handle a really big one! Careful observations and experiments have been carried out upon each of these snakes, for hitherto nothing was recorded of their natural history, and just as I write, the smaller snake has presented up with a mag- nificent set of eggs! We knew that the species was oviparous from obser- vations on a previous specimen—but
eggs were previously unknown. More- over, it is indeed a rare experience to watch a snake laying a "clutch" of eggs! The natives have many stories of the aggressive disposition of this snake, and there is no doubt that it has been responsible for considerable loss or life on the Peninsula. Sharing the same habitate as the taipan is another large venomous snake (Pseudaebis ansfcratts), often known as the "Mute*" snake. It it powerful and aggressive Bke tbe taipan, but thicker and heavier in Che body, end yielding about tbe same auanttty of venom, which is bright yellow in color, it is not nearly as dangerous a reptile *s tbe tatpan. Its venom being very much less potent and its fangs relatively abort. ' It U a much more t?werful stake than Us more deadly ally, and a specimen about she feet long that k now being "milked," is difficult to bold, lor It has the habit of twisting in one's hand. -Basis and imMes Beside* indigenous wild life, pia* and horses have run wild Cor so long (bat they are a feature of the country. In the swamps of Eastern Cape York pigs nave wrought untold damage on the native fauna, particularly oh each birds as tbe Cassowary, the scrub fowl and scrub turkey that nest on the ground. When encountered on foot, the only means of bunting in this rough country, a big boar is a very ugly customer. I had an example of the toughness of these boars while travelling under the coast ranges witb a pack team some weeks ago. Tbe baying of the dog was beard some dis tance ahead, and tbe blackboy and I ran up, to find that be had bailed op a very big old boar. He was thor oughly aroused, and the bristle* stood op on bis big shoulders threateningly Tbe only weapon that I had was a 12-gauge shot gun loaded with light (No. S) shot. I gave him this at about 30 feet, but it was badly placed and caught him in the side of the head. He did not even stagger. A moment later my wife approached with tbe pack team, and I turned to put her up a tree for safety—for a boar charges with incredible speed when he gets one's "wind." When I returned the pig had made off—and we could find no spot of blood to tell ol tbe shot! Brumbies or wild houses are numer ous, and on tbe same Journey we met S£ th?fe^? 1 "Sja-among ttiem many fine horses. iney ?c ? constant Si^S 06 to£ Q ?xPedW<? with noises, for they will mix with the hobbled team. Wck and Injure the horses, and =?*iw ?way. ?Jf the hobbles is a risk of losing the mares altogether. The "Man?phl Tiger" l"or many years there have been nunours of the existence^ of a "mS supial tiger" in North Queensland, al ttou*fr none of those 'JtoS^S. or kined the anbna! have yet produced a spectaen. and today it k a stock jote on Cape Tort: Peninsula. TSeabor^ £55? kMV, MthinToftoe eiSten^of such an salmal, nor have they any tra- SSPJgoj* t b"t there 7 if Fittfle doubt that the presence of the domes w, **& whlch has ""? 'or ? very long time—probably rin^e the days o> the Palmer Goldfleld—has occasioned more than one rumour of the presence of a strange carnivore.
SPOTTED CUSCUS, believed to be tbe ?onrcs of the reported ettotanoe of monkeys on Cape York Peninsula.
MOST VENOMOUS make in Australia being: "milked" for venom by Mr. Thomson, leader of expedition.